3/19/2013

Rav Eliezer Melamed on Kitniyot (and the elusive mung bean)

Over the past year or so, one of the project's I've been working on is the editing the translation of R. Eliezer Melamed's (thus far) 14 volume Peninei Halakha series, which is fast becoming the Religious-Zionist Shulchan Arukh. Our original plan was to release the volume on Pesach in time for the holiday, but we did not complete the work in nearly enough time. It will appear next year instead.

Nevertheless, we have decided to release one chapter as a preview/teaser. Embedded below is the chapter on kitniyot. In the introductory letter, I note that a lot went into making this translation as precise and accurate as possible, and nowhere is this more evident than in the list of kitniyot species at the beginning of section 4.

I spend about a day researching the identities of each species listed by Rav Melamed (all of which appear in earlier literature). The most difficult to pin down is a species called sapir in halakhic works. It appears in several lists of kitniyot, but without any translation into any other language. I eventually found that it appears in Rambam's laws of kilayim in Mishneh Torah. From there I contacted a friend who is a botanist and a talmid chakham. He did not know the identity of this species, but sent me on to mishna Kilayim 1:1 which mentions it among several other species of legume. R. Ovadia of Bertinoro translates it as cicer - chick peas. This species already appeared on R. Melamed's list. Rambam, however, translates it into Arabic as ma'ash.

From there I consulted with an Arabic-speaking friend, who was unfamiliar with the word but helped me navigate Arabic-language websites. We eventually found that it refers to a species known as mash beans, or she'u'it mash in Modern Hebrew. The English equivalent is "mung beans", and a look at cognates in other languages shows that both "mash" and "mung" descend from the term for this bean in central Asian languages like Urdu and Farsi. Mystery solved.

I bring this up as an illustration of the degree of precision used by Rav Melamed, and which we used in rendering his works into English.

Chag kasher ve-same'ach, and stay away from the mung beans.
Without further ado, Rav Melamed's chapter on kitniyot.


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